speaking from death row, July 15, 2009.
Troy Davis’s older sister and anti-death penalty activist.
Troy Davis’s nephew.
Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project.
director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.
The Supreme Court has taken the rare step of ordering a new hearing for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. The nation’s highest court ordered a federal district court in Georgia to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes his innocence." Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony, and there is no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. In a Democracy Now! special, we hear from Davis, speaking from death row; Davis’s fifteen-year-old nephew Antone, and his sister Martina Correia, who have led the campaign to exonerate him; Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA; and Ezekiel Edwards, a staff attorney at the Innocence Project. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The Supreme Court has taken the rare step of ordering a new hearing for Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. The nation’s highest court ordered a federal district court in Georgia to, quote, "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes his innocence."
In 1991, Troy Anthony Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of an off-duty police officer named Mark MacPhail. There’s no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene, and seven of the nine non-police witnesses have since recanted or altered their initial testimonies. Others have implicated the prosecution’s key remaining witness as the actual perpetrator of the crime.
The Supreme Court decision sparked a debate between Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, called Troy Davis’s factual claims a, quote, "sure loser," and added that a hearing would be a, quote, "fool’s errand." Scalia’s dissenting opinion states, quote, "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary,” Scalia wrote, “we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable."
In a separate opinion answering Scalia’s dissent, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, wrote, quote, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."
Well, we’ll be joined in a moment by two guests to discuss the significance of the Supreme Court decision. But first I want to turn to the words of Troy Anthony Davis himself, speaking from death row. Last month, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty organized an event in support of Troy Davis at St. Mary’s Church in Harlem. During the event, Troy called his sister Martina Correia on her cell phone. He was on death row. She held the phone to the microphone. He addressed the crowd.
TROY ANTHONY DAVIS: I want all of you to stand strong and to educate yourselves and believe that I am Troy Davis, and I will be free, and innocence truly matters. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Ezekiel Edwards, a staff attorney at the Innocence Project.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Nice to be here. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this extremely rare move. What, close to fifty years or perhaps more than fifty years the Supreme Court hasn’t made a ruling like this?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Yes. The only option left for Troy Davis at this point, after losing in Georgia Supreme Court and losing at the 11th Circuit, was to appeal directly to the Supreme Court and asking it, basically in a move under its Rule 20, original habeas jurisdiction, which means basically asking the Supreme Court to find that he is actually being held unconstitutionally. So he made a direct appeal to the Supreme Court. According to the Supreme Court’s own rules, that has to be used very sparingly and only in exceptional circumstances. And luckily, six of the eight justices recognized that, in this case, in Troy Davis’s case, it was indeed an exceptional circumstance that necessitated them to act.
AMY GOODMAN: Sonia Sotomayor, while now a new associate justice of the court, did not rule in this case.
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: No, it was only — it was eight of the nine, because she’s just arriving. So Scalia and Thomas were the only two who decided that the evidence that Troy could and wanted to put forward would not save him from execution.
AMY GOODMAN: In a few moments, we’re going to go through the details of the case with Amnesty International and then with Troy Anthony Davis’s sister, who has been championing his cause for a long time, and his fifteen-year-old nephew, who is a budding human rights activist. But going through the significance of seven of the nine non-police witnesses recanting or altering their testimony.
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Well, this is clearly, to me and certainly to the six of the eight justices, a compelling case of innocence that Troy Davis has put forward. What’s remarkable is, despite the fact that seven of the nine, as you said, witnesses at trial have recanted, despite the fact that there is also new evidence pointing to the actual killer, Red Coles, who in fact was the person to point the finger at Davis back in 1989, no court before this has ever conducted a hearing on this new evidence. There is compelling evidence here. The Supreme Court recognizes that, and they have finally said that a district court must take testimony, which no other court has yet done.
Disturbingly, Justices Scalia and Thomas were willing to go to bed at night without having any court heard that evidence, live testimony, and gone to bed knowing that, without hearing it, Troy Davis would nonetheless be executed.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to go back to that quote of Antonin Scalia. The “Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable." What does that mean?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Well, the only thing that Scalia has right there is that it’s true that the Supreme Court has never actually held that it would be unconstitutional to execute an innocent person. But one point is that a number of justices, in their opinions in the past, have said that were that to be the issue we were faced with, it would unquestionably be unconstitutional. So, very few justices have any problem saying that it would be.
What’s quite disturbing is that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas clearly take the position that even if a prisoner were able to demonstrably prove that they were innocent, and beyond any scintilla of a doubt, he would nonetheless say that there’s nothing that the Supreme Court or federal courts could do and that that person, nonetheless, would be executed and that that wouldn’t violate the Constitution. I would like to say that that is a minority position, thankfully, on the court.
AMY GOODMAN: You are with the Innocence Project. How many cases have been overturned both on death row and those who are not on death row?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Through the use of DNA post-conviction testing, we have been able to exonerate 241 people so far. Seventeen of those were on death row.
This is significant, because the problems in our criminal justice system, with forensic science, with eyewitness identification, and with wrongful convictions, are incredibly pressing, and we’ve been able to demonstrate that through DNA testing.
But this is really just the tip of the iceberg, the DNA cases. Most cases don’t involve DNA evidence —- it’s been lost, it was never there, they can’t find it. And so, this is really just a window into what could be thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are in prison, on death row, for crimes they didn’t commit.
So, how the Supreme Court looks at petitioners’ quests to prove their innocence is critical. And yet again, I’m happy to say that six of the justices recognized in Troy Anthony Davis’s case, where DNA was not present but there were significant eyewitness problems, he should have his day in court to prove his innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, just to see how this will go down now, a federal court judge will look at Troy Anthony Davis’s case, look at the evidence.
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Yes, they -—
AMY GOODMAN: And then what happens?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Well, they will first — they will take testimony. And again, the first time that any court has taken testimony on evidence of innocence before deciding to execute.
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning, bring up the people who have recanted their testimony.
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: That’s right. They will give live testimony. They will give direct — they’ll — examination, they being cross-examined. It’s also an opportunity for his lawyers to present evidence of eyewitness unreliability, of scientific research over the last thirty years that has shown how fragile memory is and how many wrongful convictions are based on mistaken ID, and basically paint an entire picture based on recanting witnesses, new evidence of innocence pointing to the actual killer, eyewitness identification problems, to establish that in fact Troy Davis was not the shooter in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, he, the judge, or she, the judge, cannot exonerate Troy Davis right at that moment, is that right? That would be determined whether there would be a new trial?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Yes, they can — they could grant Troy Davis a new trial. But, in fact, if they give him a — grant him a habeas hearing and say that he’s being held unconstitutionally, I believe that they would actually have the power to release him.
Now, Justice Scalia and Justice Stevens disagree on what the district court can and can’t do, even if they were to credit all the evidence of innocence. But Justice Stevens’s position is that there’s many things that the district court can do to give Troy Davis relief.
AMY GOODMAN: And if the judge rules that the evidence is not good enough, the lawyers for Troy Davis could appeal again to the Supreme Court?
EZEKIEL EDWARDS: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Ezekiel Edwards, I want to thank you for being with us, staff attorney with the Innocence Project.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll hear what happened on that night exactly twenty years ago or a description of the events surrounding the killing of the police officer and the arrest and the conviction of Troy Anthony Davis. And then we’ll speak with Troy Anthony Davis’s biggest advocates: his sister Martina Correia, who’s fighting for her own life, has stage IV breast cancer, as well as her brother’s; and his nephew, who’s just turned fifteen years old and just addressed 5,000 people at the centennial convention of the NAACP. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at what happened on the night that Officer Mark MacPhail was shot in Savannah, Georgia. Laura Moye is the director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. She explained the events of that fateful night in 1989 at an event organized at St. Mary’s Church in Harlem.
LAURA MOYE: On the evening of August 18th, 1989 in Savannah, Georgia, a man named Sylvester Coles was picking a fight with a homeless man who just went into a convenience store and bought a pack of beer. He was trying to get the man to give him a can of beer. He refused to, and he followed the man across the parking lot, continuing to argue him and try to bully him into doing this. They went across the street to a Burger King, which was connected to a Greyhound bus station, and the fight escalated.
There were some kids playing pool in a pool hall, including a young man named Troy Davis and some others, who went outside to see what the commotion was, and they went over to check out what was going on. The homeless man was beat in the head with a pistol so badly that he lost consciousness, and his skull was cracked, and he was profusely bleeding in the head.
Hearing this commotion, a young white police officer who was serving off-duty at the Greyhound station attached to the Burger King, ran to check out what was going on, ran to the scene. And before he could even reach for the gun and pull it out of his holster, he was shot to the ground and then shot in the face dead.
So the question became, who shot Officer Mark Allen MacPhail, this young police officer whose death left a woman to be a widow and a young baby to be a son without a father? But perhaps the question that was raised wasn’t that one; perhaps the question that really was on the minds of a group of very enraged police officers and an enraged community was, who will pay for the death of Mark Allen MacPhail? And having no leads, the police were quite desperate.
And one of the first things — you need me to speak up? One of the first things that happened that night is that the other person who was at the scene of the crime, the principal chief alternative suspect, Sylvester Coles, went to the police barracks with a high-paid lawyer and said, “I was there, and I saw Troy Davis commit that crime. I saw him shoot police officer Mark Allen MacPhail dead.”
And it looks pretty clear that what the police then did was take that theory and start to build a case around it, without even investigating the idea that this man himself was the person who could have committed this crime. The African American community in Savannah was terrorized by the police investigation. The Davis family had their home almost broken into by police, who did not even have a search warrant to come in and look for evidence.
A set of witnesses were rounded up and questioned, including a young man who was sixteen years old, who was — fifteen to twenty police officers came to his house and interrogated him and asked him to sign a statement. Several other people, also vulnerable, were also asked to sign statements, including a man who was illiterate who couldn’t even read the statement he signed. A woman named Dorothy Ferrell, who was out on parole, pregnant and had four children, who basically was sort of asked to do a favor to the prosecutor. So, one by one, this group of witnesses was asked to sign these statements.
The homeless man who was beaten unconscious and couldn’t even remember who beat him and who shot the officer, was bleeding profusely, demanding medical attention. He was interrogated and asked to sign a statement, and they wouldn’t give him help until he did. So, no murder weapon, but a string of these witnesses.
Two years after the crime, Troy Davis goes to death row. The front page of the Savannah Morning News labeled Troy Davis a cop killer before the trial even got underway. His family was not allowed in the courtroom. Martina can tell you all of this, as well. And so, Troy Davis goes to death row for a crime he probably didn’t commit.
And in the early days, when he really needed to get the information together that show that these witnesses had, you know, alleged coercion and were not truthful about their statements, the Georgia Resource Center had a two-thirds budget cut, and there were two lawyers representing eighty people on Georgia’s death row. The best they could do was triage and avert total disaster.
One step after another, Troy was failed by a system that was unwilling to find this evidence and get it back into a court of law. And three execution dates later, here we are in the summer of 2009 waiting for the US Supreme Court to come back to session and let us know if they’re willing to hear his original habeas petition.
AMY GOODMAN: Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA explaining the background of the Troy Davis case.
Well, Troy Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, also spoke at that teach-in in Harlem. The next day, she and her son, Antone De’Jaun Correia, came in to Democracy Now! to have a discussion. It was the week of the centennial celebration of the NAACP. And Antone, a budding human rights activist who has really taken on the case of his uncle, Troy Anthony Davis, and visits him all the time in prison, had just addressed 5,000 people at the NAACP. Martina Correia, his mother and Troy’s brother — Troy’s sister, has been battling for her brother’s life, as well as her own, as she is battling stage IV breast cancer.
This is our conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: You begin your speeches by saying, “I am Troy Davis. I live on death row.”
MARTINA CORREIA: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I tell people all the time that when they talk about death row, they only think about the inmate and the person that’s there, the person that’s accused of killing the person, the person that’s convicted, the person on death row, but they don’t think about the families of the death row inmates. It’s always about the families of the victims. But we’ve been victimized, too. So I tell people all the time, “My name is Martina Correia, and I am on death row,” because that is where my brother lives.
I’m in that prison more than sometimes I’m in my own home, because I believe that my brother is a central part of my family, and you have to uplift that, so we go visit him as often as possible. But the guards know us. The guards know my son. They know everybody in my family. And they have an understanding of who Troy is. And so, when I leave that prison, I leave a part of me there, every time I go. I hear those gates in my sleep. You know, I hear those keys clanking in my sleep.
I sometimes see people that are on visitation on a Saturday, and by that next Tuesday they’re executed, and I sat in the same room with them and their mother. And it’s a hard thing, because what do you say? You know, “I hope to see you next week”? “I’m praying for you”? What do you say? So, I live on death row, because I have to live that experience.
AMY GOODMAN: Antone, your uncle has gone through three dates to die, three execution — what would you call it? Three execution dates —-
MARTINA CORREIA: Dates.
AMY GOODMAN: —- and times. What is that like on the day he is set to die? Like the last time, what was it like for you? Were you at the prison?
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: Yes, I was at the prison. It was me and the rest of my family. But, I mean, I just stayed close to my grandma, and that’s when I really realized how good God is. And, I mean, my grandma, for like three hours, four hours straight, that whole day basically, she was just sitting there praying and praying and praying and praying. And she had the biggest smile on her face, because she knew everything is going to be alright, as long as he’s in God’s hands, because she said that God didn’t bring him this far to leave him. And so, I mean, I was just sitting right next to her, smiling, and I believed and have faith. So, I mean, that’s how I’m going to do for the — if we come up for another execution, I’m going to do the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember the moment you heard that they had postponed the execution?
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: Yes, ma’am, I do.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you, and how did you hear?
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: We were actually in the gas station across the street. It was all our family and then the — what’s the — National Action Network group.
MARTINA CORREIA: Reverend Al Sharpton was there.
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: Reverend Al Sharpton was there. And, I mean, once they came by and said it, I mean, we just had basically like a big party in the gas station parking lot. So —-
MARTINA CORREIA: Mm-hmm.
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: It was very fun. And, you know, and I was just -— me and my grandma were just looking up to God. We was like, we know you had it in our hands.
AMY GOODMAN: And then when did you see your uncle after that?
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: I seen him that next week?
MARTINA CORREIA: The next week —-
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: Next week.
MARTINA CORREIA: —- because they wouldn’t allow any visitors after that.
ANTONE DE’JAUN CORREIA: The next week. And I —-
AMY GOODMAN: So, after he goes through the day where he’s about to be executed and then there’s a reprieve, he can’t see anyone?
MARTINA CORREIA: No, because once there’s a reprieve, they don’t feel like he deserves a visit. So you have to wait until the next weekend to see him. So he has to go a whole week without seeing anybody.
But the chaplain in the prisons usually, you know, talk to them, and the guards and everybody is very friendly, because Troy said when he walked back in on death row, all the inmates were standing, clapping, because when he had that execution date, you know, you have to pack up all your things and everything, and he said he was giving away some of his things, his shoes and things, to other death row inmates who didn’t have really good shoes and things. And he told them that he would be back for his things, because they didn’t want them. And when he came back, all the guys were giving him his things back, and they were just saying, you know, they were so happy and so relieved, because people really don’t understand that it just takes a toll on all of them. And some of them have been there so long, they’re not the same people that have committed these crimes. And so, it’s very, very hard on them to have to deal with.
But, you know, when there’s a death warrant signed -— I remember being home by myself one day, the first time we had a death warrant. And I don’t know why I was home by myself that day, but I remember it being a Thursday, and I was actually glad my mother wasn’t there, because my brother called, and he was kind of somber. And I was like, “What’s the matter?” And he said, “You know, I just got this paper.” And he said, “They took me, and he read a death warrant to me. And what he told me, how they were going to kill me; you know, what time they were going to kill me; if the drugs didn’t work the first time, that they were going to do it again; and when the doctor would come in and listen to the vitals.” And, I mean, they just described the murder in detail.
And then, as a death row inmate, you have to sign that, like you’re confirming and accepting it. And then they gave him a piece of paper, and the counselor gave him thirty minutes to call his family and ask, how do you want your body disposed of? Who do you want to get your body? After they do an autopsy, your family has to pay for your body to come from Atlanta. You know, do you want your organs donated? Who do you want to be the last twenty-some people to visit you? You have to do that like in thirty minutes. That’s a decision you have to make in thirty minutes. So you practically have to decide your obituary in thirty minutes.
And I was so upset, and I had to act like I wasn’t. And I told him, I said, you know, “Don’t worry about it.” So then I’m calling family and friends, like, “Would you like to see Troy in the last forty-eight hours?” And then, what will people say? You know, they’re like mortified.
Then you have to decide who’s going to witness your execution. And so, you have to call people to ask them, do they want to witness your murder? And it’s like the most horrific thing you could ever listen to somebody that you love say. And then, knowing other people just want your loved one killed and, you know, saying all kind of things. And it’s really trying on the family, and it’s very, very hard. And so, that was probably the worst day of my life that I had to listen to that. I think that was even worse than when they told me I had cancer and that my brother was even sentenced to death, because when he was sentenced to death, we weren’t even allowed in the courtroom. The only time we were allowed in the courtroom was during the sentencing phase to beg for his life.
And here I am again at the parole board begging for my brother’s life, and it’s like nothing we said anybody cared about. All they cared about was that there was a white police officer killed, and we knew a black person did it, and Troy is the person that we got. And it’s like, when the witnesses came forward and told the truth, it was like, how dare you come in here and try to change our mind against a cop killer? And so, here’s me, my mom, my friends, begging for my brother’s life again. And it’s like nobody cared.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you planning to witness your brother’s execution?
MARTINA CORREIA: My brother wanted me to witness his execution, but the prison wouldn’t allow it. They told me that they would have — that the victim’s family could witness the execution, but they wouldn’t allow our family. So all my — my brother had chosen his lawyers and a couple of his friends. And then, the day of my brother’s execution, they told him that they would not allow his friends, and the lawyers even had to fight to get back on there, because what they had decided was they weren’t going to let Troy have anybody in there to support him, to witness his execution, and they were going to give more chairs to the victim’s family.
And I remember that day, we had to walk past the hearse coming out of the prison. And, you know, and they were trying to rush us out of the prison. My sister passed out in the prison lobby, and they were trying to rush us out of the prison. I was trying to figure out what was going on. And it’s because the victim’s family was coming in, and we had to get out. And they put us in an open field with dogs and guards and state patrol. I’ve never seen so many — it was something like something you see out of a ’50s or ’60s demonstration, and German shepherds all over the place. And we had to stand out in an open field in the dirt by a port-o-potty.
So I sent my mother and my family down to a respite house called the New Hope House, and we were standing out there and praying. And, you know, a whole bunch of people came, like hundreds of people came, to support Troy. And then there’s the Fraternal Order of Police across the way, and they’re wishing that Troy is killed. And, you know, we had little hangman nooses and things, and it was just —- it was an abomination. And I remember -—
AMY GOODMAN: There were hangman nooses?
MARTINA CORREIA: Oh, yeah. And I remember when my mom — when we got the word, I remember my brother had called his lawyer on the phone and said, you know, “Thank you for everything. And, you know, keep praying and everything.” And then they got word from the Supreme Court that there was a stay. And I told my brother there was a stay, and he was on the phone, on the lawyer’s phone. And all I could hear him just saying was “Thank God, thank God.” And then, all of a sudden, you could hear, because it was live on television, so it was like the guards were like, “Who are you talking to?” And they took the phone away from him.
But it was just something that was terrible, and we were all celebrating. And then they threw us off the grounds of the prison. And that’s why we were over in that parking lot. And there were people that were black people, white people, brown people, Native Americans, people that were just in the parking lot coming out of the convenience store, and we all got in a giant circle. We didn’t know each other’s religions, preference or anything, but people just came up, and we all got in a giant circle. Traffic was stopped. And nobody cared. And we all prayed. And people were like, “What’s going on?” and like, “Troy Davis got a stay.” ANd people that didn’t even know us came out and was praying with us.
And the guys from the Fraternal Order of Police were so upset, and, you know, they — I got an email from one of the Fraternal Order of Police officers, and he said to me, he said, “Martina, I know what you’re doing to save your brother you feel is a noble cause, but Troy is guilty, and if you stop, they will execute Troy, and both families can go on with their lives.” And then, in the next statement, he said, when his sister had breast cancer and like we were like friends, and like I should just accept, oh, well — but I thought to myself, what an honor for somebody to think that I had that much power that if I stop advocating for my brother, that it would be over. But I would never do that.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the guards?
MARTINA CORREIA: The guards — they have guards that have quit the prison, because they are supportive of Troy. They don’t want — they didn’t want to participate in it. There are guards that have had to be counseled, because they’ve known Troy for all these years, they know what type of person he is. And once they started looking into his case, because they got on the internet, they started seeing the facts for what it was, and they weren’t very supportive. And a lot of them are having a lot of hard times, because of like, if Troy can’t get justice, who can?
AMY GOODMAN: The guards who guard him?
MARTINA CORREIA: Mm-hmm. And I remember when Troy had an execution date, within that ninety minutes, they have like these tactical squad guys around you, and they have to be around you at all times. They want to sedate the inmates so they’re calm, so they can execute. But Troy refused to take all that sedation. You know, they do a physical on you to make sure you’re healthy enough to kill. If you’re not, they try to fix whatever’s wrong with you, so they can, you know, kill you.
But when we were crying and Troy’s lawyers were crying, and we were praying, I remember turning, wondering where the guards were to let us out of the cage, and they were over there broken up themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: The chaplains?
MARTINA CORREIA: The chaplain — there’s a couple of chaplains at the prison. One chaplain, I think, pretty much told my brother, you know, “If you just lie there and relax, you know, they’ll give you the poisons, it’ll be over, and you just don’t fight it.” And the other chaplain is not like that. He’s like, “Just keep praying, and, you know, keep praying.” And there’s high officials even at the prison that have prayed with Troy.
So, Troy — Troy is a person that — he’s a good guy in the prison. When they actually went to the parole board and read something about Troy, they read that Troy is an inmate that they use to teach other inmates how to do their time. Troy is an inmate that studies his case. He studies his religion. He’s strong in his faith. He doesn’t make waves; he doesn’t cause problems. And, you know, when they were reading this stuff about Troy, you would think, you couldn’t possibly be talking about him, because everybody else on the parole board just thinks he’s a cop killer. But you’re reading something like you’re talking about a college student.
AMY GOODMAN: What most convinces you that he is innocent?
MARTINA CORREIA: When I looked into my brother’s eyes, and I asked him point-blank, you know, “What has happened in this case? Did you do this?” and he said, “No.” And when it was his decision to come and turn himself in and ask for — answer questions, and I knew that that was a strong thing. And he said, “I would never take somebody’s life like that. I would never do that.” And even the fact that, you know, people would say, “Why didn’t your brother run?” And my brother used to tell people, “Why would I run from something I didn’t do?” And he said, “The fact that I would never be able to see my family.” He said, “I’m not doing that. I’m going to go, and I’m going to tell the truth. And people will listen to the truth, and they’ll let me go.” And to this day, Troy has never been interrogated by the police department about any part in this crime.
AMY GOODMAN: Martina Correia with her son Antone De’Jaun Correia. We’re going to come back to the interview. They were in New York for the hundredth anniversary of the NAACP. It’s before this latest Supreme Court decision came down.
Martina Correia has been fighting for Troy Anthony Davis, her brother’s life, as well as her own. She is suffering from stage IV breast cancer. She refused to have chemotherapy the week before she came to New York so she’d have the strength to give the speeches that she had to when she was in New York. When she returned in the last few weeks, she was hospitalized for seven days. We’re going to return to the interview with her in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, in a rare move, the Supreme Court has ordered a federal court to conduct a new hearing in the case of Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis to determine, quote, “whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes” his innocence.
Troy Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Twenty years ago today, that murder took place. Since then, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There’s no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene.
We’re going to go back now to the interview with Troy Davis’s sister, Martina Correia. I asked her what she thought happened that night when Officer MacPhail was killed.
MARTINA CORREIA: I believe on that night, just like according to the witness statements, I believe that Sylvester Coles was the person that was involved in this case and that if he had not gone in and talked against my brother, I don’t think my brother would be there. But according to the witness statements and according to his own testimony —-
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the day and the date and what happened.
MARTINA CORREIA: August 19th, 1989, they were downtown playing pool in a pool hall, and when they were downtown playing pool, Sylvester “Red” Coles got into an argument with a man, Larry Young, a homeless man, over a can of beer. They were arguing and fighting and followed up the street, and somebody yelled into that pool hall and said, “I think Red is going to kill this guy over a can of beer.”
Troy was nineteen at the time, and Darrell Collins was sixteen. And they followed up the street to go see what was going on. And when they did that, Larry Young was being pistol-whipped in a parking lot. And when he was being pistol-whipped in a parking lot, you know, everybody took off running, but the off-duty police officer came outside to see what was going on. And then he was -—
AMY GOODMAN: This is Officer MacPhail.
MARTINA CORREIA: Officer MacPhail. And then he was shot. But it was dark parking lot at 1:00 in the morning. And Sylvester Coles didn’t even tell the police officers that he had a .38-caliber weapon, the same caliber weapon that the police officer was killed with. And, you know, the next day he went and got a lawyer, one of the highest-paid lawyers in the city, went up to the police department, and then, all of a sudden, the case turned on Troy. And so, Troy never even had a time to defend himself. And when he wanted to answer questions, they didn’t want to hear anything he had to say.
And my thing is, Sylvester “Red” Coles was the only felon in the parking lot who admitted that he had a gun. That gun was never found. There was no physical evidence, no DNA, no reason for Troy to even shoot the police officer. So, until he went into the police department, they didn’t know who killed the police officer.
AMY GOODMAN: But the witness after witness after witness who said that your brother, Troy, did this?
MARTINA CORREIA: The witnesses were describing Coles as the person at first. And then, when he came in, they were changing it, and they were saying they heard pop, pop, pop. They heard shots. And, you know, then they gave all these different descriptions of Troy, you know. And, you know, Coles himself said he never really saw Troy shoot the police officer, that, you know, the police officer ran past him, and then he heard the shots.
So they used witnesses who were on parole and probation and who had criminal records, who were teenagers, interrogated without lawyers for hours. And some of these people signed statements that they couldn’t even read and write, that they didn’t even know what they signed. They just wanted to get out of there. And they implicated Troy on paper unknowingly. So then, when they went into court, they were told, “If you change your testimony, we’ll charge you with perjury, accessory to murder.” And so, they stuck to their statements.
And then, when they did start recanting a couple of years later, Troy didn’t even have a lawyer. And then, when the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act came into place in 1996, they made it retroactive to 1986, and what that did was that said you can’t bring forth this new evidence now, because you only had one year from conviction to show new — you know, your innocence. And that time would have been in 1992. Well, how do you make a law active in 1996 and then make it retroactive ten years? So that means all these people’s cases get caught up. So when the witnesses came forward, Troy never had a chance. We’ve been arguing procedure, technicality, and not innocence.
And you have people that say Troy had twenty-nine judges review his case, and all these judges denied him. Well, all of them were split decisions. Even the parole board was a split decision. But when you look at the twenty-nine judges, Troy went before the Georgia Supreme Court three times. That was seven judges, the same seven judges. That’s twenty-one. When Troy went to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals twice, it was the same judges. It was three judges. That’s six. That’s twenty-six judges right there —- twenty-seven. And then you had two federal judges. That’s your twenty-nine judges. So they’re making it seem like he had new judges, new hearings. You had the same judges.
And then, when you look at the judges that ruled against Troy, all of the judges that ruled against Troy were white male, except for one, and that black male that ruled against Troy is actually the lawyer, I think, for the governor and was appointed by one of the white males that’s on the bench. So they vote in blocs and, you know, just kind of like this Democrat-Republican thing.
But this is about truth. This is not about your political party. This is not about a technicality. This is about somebody’s life.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the most compelling evidence to you of the witnesses? What, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted.
MARTINA CORREIA: Mm-hmm, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Of those seven, who do you think it’s most important for people to understand?
MARTINA CORREIA: I think Dorothy Ferrell is one, because she was the one that said, “I saw Troy do this with a smirky smile.” And she came back and totally recanted, because there was no way that she could have saw what she saw from where she was. She was in a hotel room when she heard the shots. And then she said she ran outside, came downstairs, and then, you know, she saw three guys running away. But then she -—
AMY GOODMAN: Where? How far?
MARTINA CORREIA: She was across four lanes of highway, through a row of trees, looking into a dark parking lot, that was probably maybe a quarter of a mile across the street. But she says that she could see a smirky smile on a dark-complected person’s face in a dark parking lot. So, she was the one who put the gun in Troy’s hand and said that Troy did it.
And then, then you had Antoine Williams, who signed a statement against Troy, who said he couldn’t even read and write the statement. You know, and witness after witness —-
AMY GOODMAN: Who was the person who talked about right and left hand?
MARTINA CORREIA: Steve Sanders was an Air Force guy, and they were in the Burger King parking lot. And they were at the drive-through.
AMY GOODMAN: Was this the parking lot?
MARTINA CORREIA: Yes. They were at the drive-through. They actually thought that Larry Young was begging them for money, when he was begging for help, because he was being pistol-whipped. And he said that all he can see was that the person fired -— because he thought people were just playing in the parking lot, until they heard the shots. But all he could see was that the person fired from their left hand. He couldn’t tell you what they looked like. He couldn’t tell you the clothes they had on, anything. And he said that night he couldn’t tell you. Two weeks later, he couldn’t identify the shooter. Two months later, he couldn’t identify the shooter. And then, two years later, he came to trial, and he said, “That’s the guy right there. That’s the guy that did it.”
AMY GOODMAN: Is Troy left-handed?
MARTINA CORREIA: No, Troy is right-handed.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Sylvester left-handed?
MARTINA CORREIA: We are not sure, but the courts have said that what we should have done is gotten a doctor to sign an affidavit saying Troy is left-handed —- I mean, right-handed. But then we would have to prove that Coles is left-handed. But then that may not be enough information.
But, you know, one thing that was really important in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Rosemary Barkett, who said that this is not only unconscionable and unconstitutional what they’re doing to Troy, she said, “If you take out all the witness statements, what evidence do you have against Troy Davis?” And all they had was Steve Sanders, who said that that night he couldn’t identify the shooter and that all he knew was that the shooter was left-handed. And that’s what they’re saying is enough to kill Troy Davis. So, it’s amazing that Sylvester Coles was never made to produce his .38-caliber weapon. You know, it’s amazing that -—
AMY GOODMAN: You mean, he had it at home, and they never took it?
MARTINA CORREIA: No. He said that he got into the argument with Larry Young, and he threw his gun away that night. And he didn’t even tell the police until maybe a week later that he even had a .38-caliber weapon. They had to find out that he had a .38-caliber weapon. And then, when they asked where it was, he said he threw it away, and he doesn’t know where it is. So the weapon was never produced.
There was no ballistics linking Troy to the crime, no shell casings, nothing. Everything was negative. But yet, still they went to court and said they were linking shell casings, that they don’t even know who turned them in, to Troy. But the ballistics report were completely negative.
So, you know, this case is all about not only the seven out of nine eyewitnesses, but you had nine additional eyewitnesses that came forward, three who actually say they saw the murder and six who says Sylvester Coles bragged to them about committing the murder. And they’ve never been heard in a court of law, only on affidavit.
AMY GOODMAN: So what is the case that is currently before the Supreme Court that will rule when, well, perhaps Sonia Sotomayor will be the new Supreme Court justice?
MARTINA CORREIA: Yes. Well, we have an original writ before the US Supreme Court that’s a habeas writ, asking for a hearing, so that people can hear, so that justices and judges could actually hear this evidence. And they have not — the US Supreme Court has not granted an original writ in about eighty-five years.
But this is an extraordinary circumstance where somebody’s life is at stake, and that this evidence should be heard, because you have people on both sides of the fence — Bob Barr, William Sessions, you know, Jimmy Carter — you have Sam Millsap, who’s a prosecutor, you have people who support the death penalty and people who are against the death penalty on the same side in a case, saying this is an abomination. You cannot kill people like this, because if you kill Troy Davis, you’re going to expose this system, and you’re going to shut it down, you know. And that’s what this case is about.
AMY GOODMAN: Troy Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, a former Army nurse. She served in the Persian Gulf War. She was in our firehouse studio along with her son, Antone De’Jaun Correia. On Monday of this week — this is after they came here — the Supreme Court did take the rare step of ordering a new hearing for Troy Davis to determine, quote, “whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes his innocence.” The Supreme Court has not taken such a move in more than fifty years. Sonia Sotomayor is now an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but she did not cast her vote in this case.